Sunday, July 30

The Jealous One by Celia Fremlin

Review by Claire McManus

My book club's book for the month of June was The Jealous One, by Celia Fremlin.  We came to this book in a strange way.   One of our members had a copy of an old mystery lover's collection called Murderess Ink, edited by Dilys Winn.  In it there was an interview with several of the old-time greats of mysteries, and Celia Fremlin was one of them.   Apparently she was quite well respected in her time, but only one or two of us had ever heard of her, and none of us had ever read her.  Since her books deal with domestic issues, we decided to give her a try.   (We tend to like books that are mysterious but not filled with violence, graphic sex, or depravity.)
 
It turned out to be tough to find the book, but we were able to order copies through Amazon.com , and some of us were able to take out older copies from local library branches.
 
The story revolves around Rosamund Fielding, a Londoner whose happy and long-term (18+ years) marriage to Geoffrey is threatened by Lindy, the single woman who has just moved in next door.   Compared to Rosamund's workaday housewifery, Lindy is daring, plain spoken, and controversial.  She turns every man's head by consistently taking the man's side in any marriage, arguing that the wife is usually at fault when a husband is unhappy.
 
Before she knows it, Geoffrey is spending more and more time with Lindy as Rosamund fades into the background.   And then – Lindy disappears, just as Rosamund has had a dream that she's murdered Lindy.  (This isn't a spoiler—it happens within the first few pages of the book.)
 
This book generated lively discussion.  Fremlin is an extremely sharp observer of domestic life, and her observations are both penetrating and wickedly funny.   We found the character of Rosamund—who refuses to openly acknowledge her jealousy in any way—to be superbly drawn.  The pacing of the book is fast, too; just about all of us read it in a couple of sittings.
 
We ran into trouble, though, with the "mystery," which seemed rather forced.  I can't go into details without a major spoiler, but the whole second half of the book relies on a type of amnesia or possible delusion in the protagonist, and it's tough to believe that a woman as smart as Rosamund would fall victim to that.   There are a few fairly large plot holes, too, involving phone calls and unplanned visits to a mother-in-law.
 
What I found most interesting about the discussion was the way the group reacted to the character of Lindy.  Our mystery group has both men and women.  All of the women understood exactly what Lindy was up to, while it took the men longer to get it.  We understood Rosamund's refusal to acknowledge her jealousy, while the men didn't get quite that.   
 
All in all, though, we recommend this book highly.  Only one of us didn't care for it.   The rest of us definitely would like to read more of Celia Fremlin.  It seems a shame that she isn't mentioned as much any more.  She really was something special, almost a modern-day Jane Austen.   I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with her.

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